That was the reaction I got when my buddy that works at Champion Arms heard I was putting together an AR. Yeah, they know me too well…
In a recent post I detailed completing an 80% lower receiver. That being done it was time to decide exactly what I was going to build. Typically my main use for a rifle is hunting, and unless I get invited to an all-expense paid African safari I have rifles for that. I figured that maybe I’d go with a pistol build. Not an actual pistol, of course, but a short AR with a brace.
Let’s be honest here… the only people I’ve ever seen using a brace to stabilize an AR pistol were doing it to prove it works. Yes, the original ones were made to help people with only one good arm to shoot, but almost since Day 1 people used them as a stock, and eventually the ATF agreed that as long as you didn’t modify the device they couldn’t care less if you shoulder it. In practical terms this means people buy these braces to avoid the $200 fee for getting a tax stamp for a Short Barreled Rifle. If the ATF doesn’t have an issue with that, well then neither do I.
Anyway, having established that I was going to make a pistol I needed to define what it was for. As I’ve already said I have rifles (and shotguns) for hunting. In addition to being a ‘man of a certain age’ and being of… ‘ample proportions,’ competing seriously is expensive and frankly of little interest to me these days. That pretty much leaves ‘home defense’ and fun. I’m good with that. Basically it’s a PDW (Personal Defense Weapon) in military terms; more than a pistol, but less than a carbine.
I live in suburbia, so home-defense is strictly a short-range proposition, and my house is tiny. The yard is big by neighborhood standards, which doesn’t mean it’s actually very big. Yeah, long range power isn’t really a thing for this, so a short barrel is a good idea. A short barrel limits my choice of calibers, because I think the rifle calibers perform poorly from short barrels and, more to the point they are LOUD. Pistol calibers are bad enough indoors… speaking of which I thought a ‘flash can’ would be a good idea. For those that don’t know this is a muzzle device that redirects the flash (and some of the noise) away from the user. It’s not a silencer; it doesn’t reduce the noise, it just makes some of it go away from you, and the idea of not being blinded by the flash in a darkened room has it’s appeal as well.
For short barrels the best readily available options are 9mm and .300 Blackout. The .300 is a lot more powerful than 9mm, which frankly isn’t required for the purpose, and it’s a lot more expensive than 9mm. Plus I already reload 9mm and am swimming in brass, so 9mm it is.
I was delighted to discover I could obtain a complete upper with flash can for $199 on sale. I was less delighted when I read the reviews… Um, no. Time to do some research… Foxtrot Mike Products 9mm uppers are highly recommended, and Primary Arms had one of FMP’s 5″ Glock-compatible M-lock upper with flash-can that looked tailor-made for my purpose. It was neither the cheapest nor most expensive option, but it looked the business and shortly it was winging it’s way to my door.
FMP recommends the Sylvan Glock Mag adapter for use with their uppers, so I snagged one of those too.
The SBa3 brace from SB Tactical is also well thought of, and I had fired guns that mounted them before, so that went into the basket too. Magpul for the grip, a Timney Impact single-stage trigger and ambidextrous safety, an Aero Precision lower parts kit, an Angstad 5.4ounce 9mm buffer… Soon parts were wizzing my way at the speed of USPS…
When parts arrived I fitted the pins etc. from the lower kit, then it was time to install the trigger. I’ve never done a ‘drop-in’ trigger of this sort, but it’s not rocket science and there are several good videos on Youtube. In a nutshell you drop it in the trigger well, line it up and pin it in place, then tighten two Allen-head screws to lock it down, and run two set-screws in on top of those to hold them. Easy-peasy, so naturally I didn’t do it that way.
I’d left some extra material in the trigger well, so using a flex-shaft tool with a carbide bur I slowly and carefully removed material until it fit and I could just barely run the pins through the housing. Now previously all of my AR trigger experience was with Milspec triggers. The Impact is a revelation. Travel is very short, it’s super-crisp and the reset is also very short. Timney claims it’s a 3.4 lbs. trigger, and I believe them. It’s fantastic. It’s way more trigger than a gun like this needs, but it’s not always about need, is it?
I won’t bother giving you a blow-by-blow of the assembly; it’s not difficult and there are plenty of how-tos online. Basically everything fit just as it should, and the Sylvan Magwell adapter was dead-simple to install. I did need to do a skosh of fitting to the lower receiver to get it to mate with the upper, but it was not a lengthy or painful process.
I researched magazines as well… but not well enough, perhaps. I ordered three clear polymer ETS 31-shot magazines from Gunmagwarehouse.com. These are pretty inexpensive and have good reviews overall, so of course as soon as I bought them a buddy who is deep into Three-Gun competition said they don’t hold up, and always crack sooner or later. They may be OK; those 3-Gun folks use their gear hard, and are far tougher on it than I’m likely to be. Nevertheless I’m going to buy three Glock mags just in case.
Last but not least I had a Bushnell TWRS-25 Red Dot to use as an optic, and bought a much-needed sight riser off of Amazon… and discovered I had hit the wrong button and ordered the 6″, which looked absolutely stupid with the stubby Bushnell sight. I almost ordered the correct one and thought, “Wait, I have a saw…” I cut it to the proper length and coated the exposed aluminum with some black lacquer I had on hand.
It’s basically done, though I am still waiting for the Magpul had-grip. Chris at McCallen Tactical gave me an A2 grip, so I could at least fully assemble it and test it. I played around with the idea of a flip-up magnifier, but they don’t seem to be an ideal solution, and on a short-range gun like this it seemed unnecessary.
The Gun is 21″ overall, 24″ with the stock extended, and with a loaded 30-round magazine weighs just shy of six pounds.
I buggered up my back a bit, so no work today. Hell, it’s Father’s Day anyway, right? I figured the hardest part of heading to the range and testing it was the undoubtedly long wait to get a lane, and I could spend that in the car reading. I filled up the three magazines with some reloaded 124gr. 9mm, grabbed the earphones and headed out. Happily the gun just fits in my large range-bag.
So How’s it Shoot?
I researched carefully, got quality components and made sure all the bits would work and play well together, so naturally I assumed it wouldn’t work. I was not disappointed when it did work. Not a bobble the whole time. OK, there was one, but that was me; I’d failed to seat the magazine properly.
Sighting it in was an adventure. To start I ran a target out to ten yards and fired three shots. Blank paper. Not good. I reeled it in to 5 yards, and clover-leafed three shots 8 inches low and four inches left. Holy crap… I’d bore-sighted this optic on a carbine, and didn’t realize I’d had the sight dialed all the way down! After three adjustments I had elevation about where I wanted it, and ran the target out to twenty-five yards and adjusted POI to the right until hits were well centered. Good enough for now; I’ll refine that at the outdoor range later.
I only took 90 rounds because I didn’t want to bugger my back further, and that’s a good thing… because I’d have kept shooting long past the point I should have quit. I certainly achieved the goal of making it fun! It is a ball to shoot. Mission accomplished.
Well… for now at least. I have no idea how long and well the hybrid-polymer lower will hold up. Reviews and indications are good; there is one fellow who torture-tested one with a .50 BMG upper and it held up… at least for as long as he could stand to shoot it. We’ll see. For now I’ll keep a close eye on it and see how it goes. It’s pretty cheap to replace it with a decent aluminum receiver, and at the first sign of trouble I will.
I like it. I like it a lot. If reliability continues this is going to be the new ‘nightstand gun,’ and I have no doubt I’ll be having plenty of fun playing with different loads, maybe add a light… hey, it’s Adult Lego, right? The possibilities are endless…
A happy father’s day indeed, and Happy fathers day to all of you.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 21 June 2020
If you like what you see here, please consider clicking the link above and supporting me on Patreon.